Cover image for How I Discovered Poetry
Title:
How I Discovered Poetry
Author:
Nelson, Marilyn

Hooper, Hadley
Subject:
Biography & Autobiography
History
Geography
Young Adult Nonfiction
Description:
A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America's most celebrated poets. Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement. A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group

Dial Books
Date:
2014/01/14
Digital Format:
Adobe EPUB

HTML

Kindle
Language:
English

Summary

Summary

A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America's most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.


Author Notes

Marilyn Nelson is a three-time National Book Award Finalist, has won a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor and several Coretta Scott King Honors, and has received several prestigious poetry awards, including the Poets' Prize and the Robert Frost Medal "for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry." She has recently been a judge of poetry applicants at the National Endowment for the Arts and Yaddo, and has received three honorary doctorates.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nelson crafts a stirring autobiography in verse, focusing on her childhood in the 1950s, when her family frequently moved between military bases. Complemented by muted screen print-like illustrations, Nelson's 50 poems are composed of raw reflections on formative events, including her development as a reader and writer. The political and social climate of the 1950s infuses the poems through references to bomb drills at school ("Everybody's motto is Be Prepared,/ so we practice tragic catastrophes"), the Red Scare, the death of Emmett Till, and the stirrings of the civil rights movement. Nelson's introduction to poetry reads like falling in love: "It was like soul-kissing, the way the words/ filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk./ All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,/ but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne/ by a breeze off Mount Parnassus." An intimate perspective on a tumultuous era and an homage to the power of language. Ages 12-up. Illustrator's agent: Marlena Agency. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Horn Book Review

In fifty poems (some previously published) Nelson chronicles her formative years during the 1950s, from age four to thirteen, against the backdrop of the cold war and stirrings of the civil rights movement and women's lib. Each piece includes a title ("Blue Footsies" begins the book), a date, and a place name. Nelson's father was a military officer--"one of the first African American career officers in the Air Force"--and the family crisscrossed the country. Nelson's mother was a teacher who instilled in her children the importance of breaking ground: "Mama says First Negroes are History: / First Negro Telephone Operator, / First Negro Opera Singer at the Met, / First Negro Pilots, First Supreme Court Judge." Throughout their travels the family encountered racism (both the subtle and not-so-subtle types) but also loving kindness from friends and neighbors. The book ends with "Thirteen-Year-Old American Negro Girl," in which Nelson realizes that poetry is her metier and that it will be her contribution to the world. Her author's note calls this volume a "late-career retrospective...a 'portrait of the artist as a young American Negro Girl,'" and readers will be gratified to follow the progression of "the Speaker" (as Nelson refers to the main character, "whose life is very much like mine") from tentative child to self-possessed young woman on the cusp of a creative awakening. A few family photos are included, rounded out by spare 1950s-ish spot art that underscores the time period and accentuates the deeply personal nature of the remembrances. elissa gershowitz (c) Copyright 2014. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Booklist Review

In this fictionalized memoir in verse, renowned poet Nelson lyrically recounts her passage from ages 4 to 14, from numerous military base homes; through friends, schools, and dogs; and from developmental stages of initiative through industry to identity. Chronicling the decade of 1950s America, a young self-aware speaker connects national events to daily life experiences. In the author's note of her self-ascribed portrait of an artist as a young American Negro girl, Nelson disclaims that the I in the title is she. Rather, her autobiographically inspired collection of 50 nonrhyming sonnets is enhanced by research and imagination. The title poem comes near the end and is breathtaking in the perverse cruelty the young speaker experiences from an educator. Hooper's line-and-shade illustrations, along with Nelson's family photos, set a quiet and respectful tone and offer readers the feeling of taking an unsolicited peek behind a heavy curtain. For fans of Nelson's impressive body of children's and adult poetry, including the brilliant A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005), this insight into her modulated memories gratifies that heartfelt belief that here writes a woman of great substance.--Bush, Gail Copyright 2014 Booklist


School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-Nelson traces her childhood and developing awareness of civil rights issues in this eloquent collection of 50 unrhymed sonnets. In 1950, her father, one of the first African American Air Force officers, is recalled to duty, launching the family on the first of several cross-country moves. Her father takes a leave from law school, her mother takes leave from teaching, and: "Our leaves become feathers. With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins." Their travels take them from Cleveland to Texas, Colorado, Kansas, California, Maine, and Oklahoma; the leave-takings are always painful. In "Traveling Light," she muses over the family dogs (Pudgy, Lady, and General) left behind. "Daddy explains. We've been transferred again. We stand numb as he gives away our toys." Close family ties help them confront the small-mindedness and racism encountered along the way. In "Bad Name," she observes: "TV is black-and-white, but people aren't. There's a bad name mean people might call you, but words aren't sticks and stones." Books, television shows, and friends provide a respite from the menace of the Cold War. Through snatches of grown-up conversation, she learns of Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, and Little Rock. She overcomes school yard bullies, wonders about boys, and is humiliated by a teacher who makes her read aloud a racist poem: "She smiled harder and harder until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo-playing darkies.." This hurtful episode only underscores the awesome power of words and leads Nelson to wonder whether "there's a poet behind my face." Altogether, Nelson's poems offer a candid portrait of her formative years as well as a triumphant message, which will resonate with readers, young and old, who cherish and recognize the power of words and stories.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Review

Multiaward-winning poet Nelson (A Wreath for Emmett Till, illustrated by Philippe Lardy, 2005, etc.) tells how growing up as a daughter of one of the first African-American career officers in the Air Force influenced her artistic development. In its 50 unrhymed sonnets, the memoir reflects on Nelson at ages 4 through 14, as she and her family followed her father during the pivotal 1950s. Moving to 11 locations in 10 years, from Ohio to Texas, Maine to California, Nelson, her sister and parents crossed the country, repeatedly giving the speaker in these first-person poems the full-throttle experience of being not only the new kid on the block, but often the lone African-American in her class. Nelson grippingly conveys the depth of her resulting isolation, noting the strangeness of how in Kittery Point, Maine, "we're the First Negroes of everything." There's also the bafflement of having meaning attached to simply being herself--for example, while standing in line to get a polio vaccine in 1955 Kansas, "Mrs. Liebel said we were Making History, / but all I did was sqwunch up my eyes and wince. / Making History takes more than standing in line / believing little white lies about pain." With sophisticated wordplay and poignantly spare description, this lyric bildungsroman creates as effective a portrait of race relations in 20th-century America as of formative moments in Nelson's youth. (author's note) (Memoir/poetry. 10 up)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Blue Footsies (Cleveland, Ohio, 1950) Once upon a time . Upon a time? Something got on a time? What is a time? When it got on a time, could it get off? Could it get on a time two times? Three times? Three times upon a time . . . Times on a time . . . Three times on time . . . Or three times on three times . . . I hear Jennifer's breath. Our room is dark. Mama's voice questions and Daddy's answers, a sound seesaw through the wall between us. If there was, once upon a time, a fire, and I could only rescue one of them, would I save him, or her? Or Jennifer? Four-year-old saves three people from hot flames! God bless Mama, Daddy, and Jennifer . . . Church (Cleveland, Ohio, 1950) Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea from the bad city, like that angel said? Poor Lot: imagine having a pet flea. I'd keep mine on a dog. But maybe fleas were bigger in the olden Bible days. Maybe a flea was bigger than a dog, more like a sheep or a goat. Maybe they had flea farms back then, with herds of giant fleas. Jennifer squirms beside me on the pew, sucking her thumb, nestled against Mama. Maybe Lot and his wife rode saddled fleas! Or drove a coach pulled by a team of fleas! I giggle soundlessly, but Mama swats my leg, holding a finger to her lips.  Called Up (Cleveland, Ohio, 1951) Folding the letter and laying it down, Daddy says, "Well, Baby, I've been called back up." Mama pauses, then puts my bowl of beans in front of me. Jennifer eats and hums across from me on two telephone books. Mama says, "Pray God you won't see combat." Jennifer, stop singing at the table, I hiss. Her humming's driving me crazy. She looks up from her bowl with dreaming eyes: Huh?  Mama says, "My darling, we're going, too." Stop singing!  "I'll take a leave from law school," he says, "and you'll take a leave from your job." We've been called up. Our leaves become feathers. With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins. Excerpted from How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.